By Jessica Talarick

American Repertory Ballet to begin its next season in September.

Each holiday season, audiences flock to McCarter Theatre to watch the American Repertory Ballet bring the Nutcracker to life.

But the Nutcracker is only the midpoint of ARB’s 2013-14 season, which starts in September and is filled with classical and contemporary performances.

Audiences can get a taste of what’s to come this season at the the Fall Kick-Off scheduled for Sept. 20 and 21 at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center Theater. ARB’s company of professional dancers will perform eight to 20-minute routines in a variety of styles including pointe and barefoot.

ARB’s executive director Christine Chen said the Kick Off showcases the company’s range.

“We do some tutu pieces, but we also do non-tutu pieces,” Chen said. “By showing the range, it excites people.”

Chen said the season-opener may feature a scene from Romeo and Juliet, which the company is performing at New Brunswick’s State Theatre in October.

ARB’s rendition of Shakespeare’s tragic love story features sword fighting, duets and group numbers, with music provided by a full orchestra. Chen said audience members find the star-crossed lovers narrative easy to follow.

In the spring, ARB plans to premiere new pieces including Firebird by artistic director and former company member Douglas Martin. The company is set to perform Martin’s Rites of Spring, a Mad Men inspired ballet, as well. The upcoming season also features ARB’s On Pointe Series, which is part of the organization’s Access and Enrichment department.

“It’s a chance for the public to come in for free and learn more about dance,” Chen said.

On Pointe events mostly take place at ARB’s studio located in Princeton Shopping Center above McCaffery’s. The series includes activities for all ages.

On Pointe: Meet the Company is set for noon on Sept. 13 and gives the community the opportunity to mingle with the dancers they watch on stage. Chen recommends this event for younger dancers; age 5 and up.

Other On Pointe events include lectures on the music used during performances, sneak peaks of upcoming shows and presentations on athletic diet and nutrition. Those inspired by the performances and enrichment events can learn their own routines at Princeton Ballet School, ARB’s official ballet school.

ARB offers classes at four ballet studios: Princeton Shopping Center, Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, New Brunswick and downtown Cranbury. The school caters to dancers across New Jersey and Bucks County. Along with youth classes, ARB offers open classes for dancers age 13 and older. Students in these classes are not required to attend every session.

Open classes are offered at beginner, immediate and advances levels. Along with ballet, there are jazz, hip hop and modern classes. In addition to traditional dance classes, the ballet school also offers exercise classes for adults such as Pilates and CardioBallet.

The school has come a long way since Audrée Estey founded the Princeton Ballet Society in 1954 and started Princeton Ballet School. As years passed, Estey watched her students develop into advanced dancers and wanted to show off their skills. Chen said Estey saw McCarter Theatre as the perfect venue and staged the first performance of the Nutcracker in the spring of 1956.

The dancers performed the Nutcracker sporadically until 1964, when Estey formed the Princeton Regional Ballet Company (now ARB) and the performance became a winter tradition. ARB returns to celebrate 50 years of sugarplum fairies and toy soldiers at McCarter Theatre this November.

Chen said in preparation for the anniversary ARB has spent the past four years revamping its sets. This year, they are set to unveil a new Christmas tree.

For the past 50 years, the Nutcracker has provided Princeton Ballet School students the opportunity to perform on stage along side the company. To commemorate its milestone, ARB is set to host an alumni gathering at The Nassau Club on Nov. 30. Chen said she hopes all of the company’s former performers can attend the event.

“It becomes a very community oriented thing” Chen said, “Every year alumni get to come back and see friends from the school.”

The company is also scheduled to present the Nutcracker at Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial and the State Theatre in December. It is their 20th year performing at the venues.

More information is online at